Did US carriers come up short on placating China?


Four US airlines all claimed compliance with China’s demand that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao be listed as part of China in online booking systems. The carriers updated their websites late Tuesday to have the proper naming present by the Wednesday deadline. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is withholding approval of the changes, however, with a two week window now running to review the changes and ensure they are sufficient. And there is reason to believe that the US carriers did not go far enough to meet the demands of China.

United Airlines is not calling Taiwan part of China throughout the site; that could upset the CAAC
United Airlines is not calling Taiwan part of China throughout the site; that could upset the CAAC

Caught up in the international diplomacy dispute, the airlines must walk a fine line to maintain their business in Taiwan and mainland China. To that end the US carriers simply dropped mention of Taiwan from their websites. While airports in other countries – including China – show a country name or code in the lookup tables and destination lists the Taiwanese airports do not. This compromise allows the airlines to show that they are not claiming Taiwanese independence (the CAAC’s demand) while also not claiming Taiwan as part of the PRC.

American's version of the Taiwan issue, also leaving off the China bit
American’s version of the Taiwan issue, also leaving off the China bit

But the US carriers were alone in that approach. And it is unclear that the compromise was negotiated with Chinese authorities so much as decided by the US carriers in hopes no one would mind.

Lufthansa did not try to split the difference; Taiwan is clearly listed as part of China on its site
Lufthansa did not try to split the difference; Taiwan is clearly listed as part of China on its site

European carriers updated their sites to show “Taiwan, China” as the designation for the airports, the outcome China and the CAAC desire.

Air France complied fully with the CAAC demand for listing Taiwan as part of China
Air France complied fully with the CAAC demand for listing Taiwan as part of China

During the company’s earnings call on Thursday American CEO Doug Parker suggested that it was a viable compromise and expressed hope that it would be seen as acceptable. And perhaps it will be. The CAAC left open the two week window for further review rather than outright claiming noncompliance. But only 4 of 44 airlines are non-compliant. And they’re all US carriers. That does not bode well.

Read more: China wins airport “separatism” battle

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

4 Comments

    1. That is certainly an option. And the CAAC would certainly reject that as non-compliant with the mandate. 😉

    1. Sure, but CAAC controls flights into and out of China. Battles can be fought on many fronts. And it is often more effective to not wage them with tanks and guns when other options exist.

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